Read our collection of funny cultural differences you can find in Italy, and our advice on how to steer clear of the classic tourist trip ups!
1 - Learn the Lingo
Let us start with the basics. Most people know that 'Ciao' is the commonly used greeting in Italian, and if you didn't, well, now you do. What many first-timers may not know however, is that the Italians actually use this word for both 'Hello' and 'Goodbye', so don't be confused when the waiter says it on your arrival and when you get up from the table at the end of the meal!
2 - Conquer the Caffeine
Coffee is a very important aspect of Italian culture, and you'll be sure to find a bar (cafes in Italy are called bars) on almost every street corner you come across. If you want to fit in with the locals, do as the Italians do and make sure to stand up at the counter to drink your caffè. DO NOT order a cappuccino after 11am, unless receiving disapproving glances from almost everyone within earshot doesn't bother you. Coffee with milk is served exclusively at breakfast time, so avoid commiting the ultimate cultural crime and opt instead for a classic espresso. For those who love their frothy vanilla skinny coconut latte, prepare to be disappointed... if you order a latte in Italy, you'll be offered a glass of milk, as latte is the literal translation. But don't worry, your Starbucks go-to will still be there when you get back home!
3 - Order 'In-the-know'
When it comes to gelato, pizza al taglio, pastries, or really anything that you can buy over the counter, it is expected that you pay at the till for what you want to buy before receiving your purchase. It is only after you have a receipt that you should ask a member of staff to pick out exactly what you want. So, before you start to kick up a fuss in the Gelateria because three people that arrived after you have now been served, it's best to head straight to the till and order your cone or cup size before gushing over the display of flavours to choose from!
4 - Dress Dapper
The stereotype often attached to Italian fashion is generally associated with words like stylish, luxury and chic... and to be honest, it's not too far from the truth! Italian's have a reputation for attention to detail and taking care over their appearance, so if you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb (or in this case a typical tourist) we recommend covering up a bit - regardless of the weather. This tip is essential if you are planning on visiting museums and churches on your stay here, as many establishments won't allow entry if your shoulders are on display, or you are wearing shorts. Switch up your flip flops and trainers for sandals and loafers... Oh, and one last thing, please leave the tracksuits and sportsgear behind... we know its all-the-rage back home, but over in Italy this latest trend isn't so hot!
5 - Shop Suitably
When taking a trip to the local grocery store, for the most part it is relatively easy to find what you're looking for, but when it comes to fresh produce there are a few tips you should be wisened up to beforehand, or you'll end up being that one who creates a long queue at check-out! When selecting your fruit and veg in Italy, it is largely frowned upon if you waltz along the aisles picking up and putting down again. If you want to have a proper rummage, look around for a pair of plastic gloves, and feel away guilt-free! Once you've made your choice and popped it in a plastic bag, take care to read the number written above your selected product. This is essential when weighing your purchase on the scales, as you need to input it into the machine to recieve a price sticker. If you go to the till with bags full of fruit and no sticker in sight, it's a waste of time for you, the cashier, and everyone behind you!
6 - Travel Trouble-free
If there's one thing Italy doesn't have such a good name for, it's the transport system. Trains, buses and trams can be very hit and miss, and you should actually consider yourself lucky if the train departs at the time it initially claimed to! While there is not much advice we can give to avoid travel mishaps - yes, it is that unpredictable - there is one thing you can do to ensure as smooth a ride as possible... make sure to validate your ticket before getting on board! We can't stress enough how important this is, and how many people actually forget to do so. Don't end up with a hefty fine all because you didn't take a second to tap your card against the vaildation machine on the platform!
7 - Dine Deftly
In Italy, there is no such thing as a late lunch. When visiting, it is best to respect their dining culture if you don't want to get caught in tourists traps along the way. Restaurants are typically open from between 12:00-3:00pm for lunch, re-opening later on at around 6:45 for the dinner sitting. Places that still serve food between these times tend to be of poor quality (especially if you can spot blurry pictures of pizza and pasta stuck against the windows!) We recommend living like the Italians during your time here... take a caffè with a pastry in the morning, a light lunch around 1:00 (perhaps a pasta dish and a glass of wine), followed by an aperitivo (Spritz Aperol with some light nibbles) around 6:00-7:00, completed with a meat or fish-based dinner towards 9:00-10:00. If, however, you are happy in your ways, there are many bars and corner shops that serve fresh paninis, pizzas and sandwiches all day long if you start to get peckish around 4:00!
8 - Pizza like a Professional
Now, it is obvious that Pizza will feature in your Italian getaway. Don't be overwhelmed by the amount of choice there is however, as simplicity is key when it comes to this doughy delicacy. For the best experience, we recommend keeping it classic... opt for a simple margherita bufala to be transported to ultimate pizza heaven, or if you're a spice-seeker, diavola is the one for you. And before you even consider asking for pineapple pizza, don't. Just, don't. Please. For your own good. There is no such thing. NO. SUCH. THING.
9 - Eat Bread with Authenticity
No no, don't smirk. This is a serious matter. With every meal, you will usually be offered a basket of breads to nibble on while you gloss over the menu. It will be accompanied with two small bottles... introducing to you olio di oliva e aceto balsamico (olive oil and balsamic vinegar). Before you ask the waiter where the butter is, pour a little from each bottle onto your side plate, add a tiny pinch of salt, and dip your bread accordindly. Pretty good huh? Don't go crazy with it though... save some bread to soak up the remains of your tagliatelle al ragù (fancy way of saying spag bol).
10 - Settle up smartly
You're feeling more than satisfied after all that bread and pizza (eating carbs in Italy is guilt-free, didn't you know?), and now you've asked for il conto (the bill). More often than not, you will see the word coperto written at the bottom next to a small charge, usually not more than €3 per person. Literally, it stands for 'bread and tableware', but it is basically an Italian word for service charge. Therefore keep in mind that when you eat in a restaurant in Italy, you will be expected to pay a little extra for your table. This custom comes with a plus side however, as tipping in Italy is not expected, nor encouraged. Tipping is reserved for particularly exceptional service or food (or for when you've had a bit too much wine and you're feeling extra generous!)
Now that you are well-learned in the Italian lifestyle, there's nothing stopping you from booking a stay in one of our low-cost hostels to experience these cultural differences first-hand... Live it up dolce vita style this summer!